On its surface hiring a bilingual attorney in any specialty of the law, let alone real estate, may seem like nothing more than a luxury and not necessarily a pressing urgency!
After all real estate, like politics, is local. This means that in any given market, or even neighborhood and street within that market, the need for a bilingual attorney may be limited if ever required as all parties to a specific transaction speak the same language.
But given the fact that the economies of the world no longer operate in an isolated vacuum, and that the movement of capital into the safe haven of the United States is much more common, real estate in certain locales has become an extremely attractive target for foreign buyers looking to shield capital and/or to live.
When a non-English speaking buyer from somewhere around the world comes to shop for property, the ability to clearly communicate is critical. This communication includes to the seller of the property but more importantly to the attorney representing them as well.
This is particularly true as we are not speaking of minor transactions, but ones involving contractual agreements that may run in the millions or even tens of millions of dollars.
Each side of a transaction clearly understanding what the other is saying, and more importantly the specific meaning and intent behind what they are saying, can spell the difference between a deal running smoothly, turning into a nightmare or maybe even dying.
Consider these demographic facts from Mansion Global…
In New York, the trend toward Asian buyers is also continuing
Like in Los Angeles, broker Rick Pretsfelder of Leslie J. Garfield said that Asian buyers are the most prevalent foreign buyer group that he’s seen this year in Manhattan, representing about 30% to 35% of attendees at high-end showings, and 10% to 15% of purchasers.
“I haven’t seen a downturn in the number of Chinese clients who are interested in purchasing real estate,” Mr. Pretsfelder said, noting that many of them are particularly interested in townhouses, including the most expensive listings he’s currently showing.
Buyers from Taiwan and South Korea are also prevalent, he said, while buyers from Eastern Europe and Russia—common purchasers of townhouses seven or eight years ago—are nowhere to be seen.
So while a bilingual attorney may be unnecessary for many real estate deals where a common language is shared between buyer, seller and each sides legal counsel, these are the thoughts of some attorney’s in the New York City/Long Island region as to why their ability to speak two (or more) languages can be very necessary.
If an attorney or real estate client would like to add their thoughts on the subject, feel free to do so in the comments section below.
Robin Gershowitz, Gershowitz Law, Spanish: “Given that many Spanish speaking clients speak and understand English only on a limited basis, if at all, it’s important that their attorney speak Spanish. This allows the attorney to express their full range of advice to their clients, including many of the legal nuances that would otherwise get lost in translation, and to understand what their clients are telling them so as to render the best possible advice based on their client’s expressed needs.”
Victoria Fisher, Cea Fisher P.C., Russian : ‘The New York residential real estate market is truly unlike most other systems. Real estate brokers, title companies, and attorneys are key players in these deals, whereas notaries that are so prevalent in Russia and Europe do not play any significant role in the process. To better understand the legal and procedural concepts that most likely do not exist in foreign real estate transactions, it is helpful an even critical for a foreign buyer to engage an attorney speaking the same language as he or she does.’
Jean Chou, JLC Associates, Mandarin: Given the complexities that exist in a New York real estate transaction under the best of circumstances, it’s critical that the buyers and sellers have a clear understanding of what the other side is saying and, more than that, intending. The clear and concise conveyance of this information, particularly when a great deal of money is on the line, is critical. One side misunderstanding the other due to a language issue is unacceptable creating the need for an attorney who can handle this aspect of the deal!
Michele Cea, Cea Fisher, P.C., Italian: ‘In light of the significant differences between the US Common Law system and European Civil Law, even the most sophisticated European investor wants or should want an attorney who is familiar with the legal concepts from his or her homeland and is capable of offering comparisons the system not only of the United States but in each state as well.”
Fernando Koatz, Gleason & Koatz, LLP, Portuguese: Any foreign purchaser of New York real estate will be confronted with a legal and procedural system that, despite the sophistication of the buyer, may be difficult to understand completely. That is why, the ability of the lawyer to speak, read and write in the language of the purchaser is important to advise a client properly. Language barriers can be as significant as legal, cultural and related barriers.
Questions, comments or ideas for future articles please contact Mike at the information below.
Michael Haltman, President
Hallmark Abstract Service
Phone: (646) 741-6101